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An interview with Dietmar Elger on the publication of the latest volume of Gerhard Richter’s catalogue raisonné

18. March 2020
Emma Nilsson

To mark the publication of the fifth volume of Gerhard Richter’s Catalogue Raisonné, Dietmar Elger, editor and head of the Gerhard Richter Archive in Dresden, provides insights into the various facets of this long and complex research work. The volume covers the years 1994 to 2006 and will be published by Hatje Cantz at the end of March.


Riva di Morcote: The fifth volume covers the period from 1994 to 2006. How long did it take to research and prepare the catalogue raisonné for the oeuvre of a very productive artist spanning more than a decade?

Dietmar Elger: I’ve been working continuously on research and gathering of information for the entire oeuvre since 1962, and when I start, I don’t concentrate on a specific period. For exhibitions, catalogues and books etc., all the information for the catalogue raisonné is catalogued. It is only in the two years before the publication of each volume that I concentrate on researching the open questions for the respective period.

RdM: How do you decide which works will be included? For example, are there paintings and sculptures that do not appear in the catalogue raisonné and therefore are not recognized as ‘official’ works? What are the reasons for this and is this decided with the artist?

DE: In the preface to the catalogue raisonné, some parameters for the listed works and the type of cataloguing are formulated. There it is also specified that this is the catalogue raisonné of numbered works, i.e. that only those works are taken into consideration that Gerhard Richter has provided with a so-called work number. The catalogue raisonné thus begins with the painting Tisch (Table) from 1962, which was catalogued by Richter with the number 1. Gerhard Richter occasionally ignored the classic media. The catalogue raisonné therefore contains not only paintings and sculptures, but also photographic works, works in oil on paper and pencil drawings on paper or canvas. As a result, there are works that can also be found in the catalogue raisonné of drawings or editions.

RdM: Certainly, all works leaving the studio will be extensively documented. Are you able to see all or most of the works beforehand?

DE: Since I’ve been in charge of the archive, it has usually been the case that I see all of the works in the process of creation.

RdM: You have been the director of the Gerhard Richter Archive since 2006. Do collectors or dealers approach you to suggest works for inclusion in the catalogue raisonné?

DE: As far as the assessment of non-numbered works is concerned, I am in the fortunate position of being able to discuss such cases with Mr. Richter, or to submit them to him for a decision. However, there are also examples of works that have only been listed in the earlier catalogues raisonné in a general way. Parkstücke (Park Pieces, no. 320) and Umgeschlagene Blattecken (Turned Sheets, no. 70) are such examples, which I have now catalogued and illustrated individually and completely.

RdM: The first volume of the catalogue raisonné begins in 1962, the year after Gerhard Richter and his wife relocated to the FRG. Apparently, Gerhard Richter himself issues certificates for the works that were created in the previous years. From the outside this seems like a conflict – are there any plans that his years in the GDR will also be documented in an additional volume?

DE: No, Mr. Richter does not issue such certificates and nor does the Gerhard Richter Archive. A catalogue raisonné of the works created in Dresden is not possible for purely practical reasons. Many pictures have been destroyed or lost. Often, we cannot even identify the technique of the photographically documented works. Titles, dates and dimensions are missing. It would therefore be completely hopeless to tackle a catalogue of works. Moreover, the significance of this early work would hardly justify such a strenuous undertaking.

RdM: To stay informed about individual works by Gerhard Richter, most curators, collectors and dealers usually use the website, which is not operated by the archive. What additional information, references and so on can be found in the catalogue raisonné? Is the work numbering identical?

DE: Yes, I assume that the numbering of the works is identical, since the website certainly also refers to the numbering used by Gerhard Richter himself. Our six-volume catalogue raisonné, on the other hand, is a scholarly catalogue of works, which is the result of many years of careful research and study. However, I do not want to exclude the possibility of occasional errors. They cannot be avoided in view of the more than 3,800 pages of collected research work.

RdM: Independently of the various volumes of Gerhard Richter’s catalogue raisonné, you have edited and published the catalogue raisonné of Félix González-Torres. It was published shortly after his death and must have presented a completely different challenge, not only in researching detailed information but also in taking decisions such as which works to include. What are the main differences when a catalogue raisonné is written during the lifetime or after the death of an artist?

DE: In the case of Félix González-Torres, whose work span was relatively short, I would never have accompanied our exhibition [1] with a catalogue raisonné if the artist had unfortunately not died shortly after we started working on the exhibition with him. Our contact person was therefore his gallerist Andrea Rosen, who also represents the estate. The division of the catalogue raisonné into Works, Additional Works and Non-Works, for example, was decided by the estate.

RdM: In recent years it seems that more and more estates no longer issue certificates of authentication for fear of being sued by collectors who are dissatisfied with the conclusions. Among the estates that try to avoid such costly litigation are The Andy Warhol Foundation, Karel Appel Foundation, Keith Haring Foundation and the Calder Foundation. Is it even possible for an expert or for an estate to protect themselves against this kind of lawsuit?

DE: I think that the legal situation in Germany is somewhat different and that such problems do not arise here in the same dramatic fashion.

RdM: The sixth volume has already been announced by Hatje Cantz with the publication date next year – do you know whether this date can be met and if so, what period the volume covers?

DE: The sixth volume begins with the year 2007 and the Cologne Cathedral window, which has the work number 900, and it will extend to the most recent works that will have been created shortly before the volume is published. This will happen in February 2022 on Gerhard Richter’s 90th birthday.

RdM: Mr. Elger, thank you very much for the interview.


[1] Félix González-Torres, Sprengel Museum Hanover, 1997, Kunstverein St. Gallen Kunstmuseum 1997, Museum für moderne Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Vienna, 1998.

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